District lost 124 students

by: HOLLY M. GILL - A construction crew works on walkways and curbs in front of the new Performing Arts Center on Wednesday.Should the 509-J School District stop allowing students to transfer to other districts? That’s the question board members will be pondering for the next two weeks.

At the July 14 board of directors’ meeting, Superintendent Rick Molitor reported on the number of students leaving the 509-J District, and noted, “Sixty letters were mailed out to parents of students who have attended Culver School District to ask what they intend to do next year.”

The attendance report showed, of the students living in the 509-J District, 82 were home schooled; 33 were attending online, or virtual schools; 33 were attending other school districts through the state’s Open Enrollment provisions, and 109 left through interdistrict transfers.

Open Enrollment

Open Enrollment allows parents to move their child to another school district, but only once a year during a certain time period. Forms must be filled out and submitted by April 1.

The receiving school district can set enrollment caps, based on its classroom capacity. Parents who want to send their student to another district are responsible for all transportation costs.

“We have no control over that,” Molitor said of Open Enrollment requests to transfer out.

Last year, through Open Enrollment, 509-J had 32 students leave to attend in Culver; and one student go to school in Redmond, for a total of 33 leaving. On the receiving end, 509-J accepted 10 students from Culver, one from Redmond, and two from Fossil, for a total of 13 coming in. The net result was a loss of 20 students.

Interdistrict transfers

Interdistrict transfers are student exchange agreements set by each school district. Up to now, 509-J has been allowing all students requesting a transfer to leave.

Last year, 85 students transferred to Culver schools; 19 to Wasco School District in Maupin; one to the Bend LaPine School District, three to Redmond; and one to Crook County School District, for a total of 109 transferring out of 509-J. The 509-J District received two interdistrict transfer students from the Bend-LaPine District; and three from Redmond; for a net loss of 104 students.

Combining Open Enrollment students leaving and interdistrict transfers, 509-J lost 124 students last school year.

“We need to establish a board practice,” Molior said, adding, “We can say no to transfer requests, or we can set a limit on the number (of students) released, or we can release all students who apply.”

He said the 19 students from Simnasho requesting to attend Wasco School District schools in Maupin made logical sense, since it saved students from unreasonably long bus rides.

Board member Tom Norton Jr. felt 509-J should curb the transfers. “The Wasco student transfers are for an obvious reason. But signing off on kids wanting to go to other districts … I feel that should not be allowed to go on,” he said, mentioning all the improvements 509-J has done with new buildings and teacher training.

“Saying `Go wherever you want’ seems like we don’t have confidence in our programs, and we’re giving up revenue our kids could be using,” Norton said.

“It’s almost like we’ve opened the door for this kind of thing,” board member Lyle Rehwinkel agreed. “We’re losing $1 million (in state school funding) with the number of students leaving, and our kids are losing out,” he added.

In discussion, Molitor and the board members agreed that parents could continue to request student transfers during the Open Enrollment period.

Board member Brad Holliday agreed about curbing interdistrict transfers, but said, “As a parent, I don’t want a board telling me what school is best for my kids. With Open Enrollment, everybody still has an option.”

Molitor recommended a policy stating any current student (attending another district) could continue there. But in the future, no interdistrict transfers would be allowed.

However, Molitor said he needed to gather more information from the 60 letters that had been sent out. “I’m asking the board to consider this and talk to people between now and the next board meeting,” he said.

In other business:

. Ethos music teachers will be back this fall, Molitor said, noting the program secured funding. Two teachers will be returning, and Ethos is seeking two more.

. Celebration events are being scheduled for 509-J’s new buildings. A formal dedication and ribbon-cutting for the new Warm Springs K-8 Academy will be at 10 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 27. The community celebration, with school tours, will be from 2-4 p.m., Sept. 4, during the Warm Springs back-to-school barbecue. The barbecue will follow the tours.

An opening ceremony and ribbon-cutting for the new Madras High School athletic facility is being planned for 5 p.m., Sept. 12, at the first football game, with Buff Boosters hosting a barbecue.

The Performing Arts Center’s projected completion date is Nov. 18, so no event has yet been planned.

. Common Core Standards were reviewed by curriculum director Melinda Boyle, who said they set nationwide guides for schools. The standards provide a framework for teachers to follow, but doesn’t tell them how to teach, she said. “It tells us what kids need to learn and it’s up to our teachers to create that learning for us,” she said. A video on the 509-J website, under “parents” explains the Common Core Standards.

To measure learning progress, Boyle noted Oregon is switching to a “Smarter Balance” achievement test instead of the former OAKS Achievement test, and stated, “It is 40 percent harder than the OAKS test, so our scores and everybody’s statewide will go down due to the new test.”

. A proposal to establish a separate Jefferson County Alternative School, with classrooms at Westside and in Warm Springs, was tabled to allow Molitor to do more research on state requirements and secure staffing. He will report back before Sept. 15.

Commenting on state requirements, Rehwinkel said, “We don’t want to create this school and then have kids that can’t get into it.”

. Under personnel, Evan Brown was hired as the new MHS athletic director; Justin McCormack as a MHS language arts teacher. First-year teacher hires included: David Hurley, Warm Springs K-8 Academy; Elise Stenberg and Ashley Bye, both at Buff Intermediate; Katherine Clarkson and Meghan Van Cleave, both at Madras Primary; and Daniel Guilfoy, English as a Second Language teacher at MHS and Madras Primary.

Resignations included title VII teacher Rick Wells, and MHS swim coach Bobby DeRoest.

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